How One Game Led to a Gospel Transformation
I adore Pokemon Go, maybe more than my wife (She wrote that part). Since its launch in 2016, I’ve rarely missed a day in which I didn’t play at least a little. I’ve built countless relationships with students, and adults, through this interactive AR experience. Wednesday night raids have become a staple at my church where, most recently, I had nine students battling alongside me to defeat a tough Dialga. Pokemon Go has been a talking point to help me stay connected to seminary friends serving in other states or countries, family and former students who have moved. Most importantly, Pokemon Go has been a bridge to connect with people. It’s been a way to have fun and break ice on a lot of Gospel conversations over the years. Of the myriad of stories I have involving this game, one in particular stands out.
In April of 2017, I was in desperate need of a job. I knew the Father would take care of me and my family and he did so faithfully. In June of that year I got a call from one of the largest and most decorated high schools in my home state of Mississippi. I got a job as a teacher for a special needs classroom and I was terrified at the premise of going to such a massive and high performing school. I went from a small school district to a school with almost 1800 students and over 200 faculty members and I was intimidated to say the least.
On my first day at the school, I saw, from across the room, a friend of mine from my student teaching days, Vu. Vu and I did our student teaching at the same middle school back in 2013 and he was the only familiar face in the sea of professionals. I clung to him because of his familiarity despite knowing that we hadn’t spoken much in the years since graduation. My brother-in-law, Matt Lane (a TRG Member) had invited me to lunch and I invited Vu along as well. After lunch we wanted to kill some time before our next meeting and we decided to do a raid battle in Pokemon Go. At the time, raids were a fairly new feature and Vu decided to redownload the game that he had not played since launch. The three of us defeated the gargantuan Gengar and so began a relationship with Vu where he and I would trade, raid, battle, and catch Pokemon together. We’ve been playing together ever since.
Pokemon Go is one of my favorite games of all time and it doesn’t take me long to get people to play with me. During all those times of talking about our professional life at work and our Pokemon, Vu and I began to develop a relationship beyond surface level subjects. We began having Gospel conversations and I learned that Vu grew up Catholic but had some bad experiences that left him somewhere between atheism and agnosticism. Vu had friends that would occasionally invite him to church, and he did so mostly for socializing. We had many conversations over the next four years where I would communicate to him that I cared for him and that it was my desire that he would know Christ as King and Savior. I also communicated that at any time he could ask me to stop if he felt that I was pushing my faith on him. He never did. I bought him a study Bible and recommended he start in the Gospel of John and gave him some tips on how to study according to genre and book order within the Bible. It was so cool to hear over the years as he slowly began to ‘believe the miracles of Jesus more” than he did. My church, and the students in my youth group in particular, began praying for Vu very specifically.
Vu and I developed more relationships with other men at our school who had real and genuine relationships with the Father. He saw faith lived out amongst our friends and our families. These friends would help me connect him with a church closer to his home, as my church was thirty minutes away. After four years, one Sunday service changed something in Vu. The following Monday, Vu came into classroom B125 where a buddy and I were making coffee. He said that for the first time in his life he viewed Jesus as an agent of help in a world that was broken. That Jesus was not exclusively here to judge and punish but also to save! I looked at my buddy across the room and knew the moment had come. I nervously said, “Vu, are you ready to surrender to Christ and make him King?” He hesitated, but not for long, “I think I am.” Praise the Father!
As Jesus did to the rich young ruler, I told Vu that following Jesus would require faith and ultimately a sacrifice of things that dishonor him. That following Christ meant dying to self and was a difficult but rewarding labor done through the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who are being sanctified. I asked if he now was ready to believe in the creation, the fall, this sinfulness, and that he was in need of Jesus. He said that he was ready to believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for the atonement of his sin and that he was ready to live for Christ. Vu and I prayed together, in classroom B125, and he moved from a fellow Pokemon Master to a fellow brother and child of the One True King.
Vu, at 35 years old, was born again. As all who are born, he has had to learn how to walk and talk. We continue to have Gospel conversations and he now is connected with a small group at church very close to his home. He just finished reading Luke and Acts and he often initiates conversations about what he is reading. We are able to have conversations about how crazy it is that, “Saul became Paul and he was, like, a murderer of a Christians.” We have conversations about ethics and moral issues that he is changing his perspective on because he now understands that what God decrees is ultimately for our good and an extension of his love. Vu is a new creation in Christ Jesus.
Towards the end of May of 2021, I was preparing for youth camp and I was short a male chaperone. Vu was the perfect candidate for this task. Though introverted and hesitant, Vu joined me and my group and he was stellar. He shared about his personal struggles and how the patience and love I showed him was exactly what he needed to understand God’s love and patience towards him. He had only been a Christian a couple of months but was encouraging me and my students in our walk with Christ. I was in tears as was my group, which I guess is typical of a church camp experience. Vu and I spent our free time at camp with a half dozen of my students doing Pokemon Go raids around the university campus and enjoying the fellowship that the Father had blessed us with. I praise God for his work in my life and the life of Vu. I look forward to baptizing him and continuing our gospel conversations. I also praise God for games and that he is able to redeem them as a bridge to deliver the Gospel.